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The evolution of: the little black dress

The evolution of: the little black dress

The little black dress is iconic. When it first entered the style consciousness in 1926 it democratised fashion. It’s short length and simplicity meant that any woman could afford to be chic.

In fact, when they published an illustration of Coco Chanel’s short black dress in 1926, American Vogue called it “Chanel’s Ford” and with impressive accuracy, foretold that it would become “a sort of uniform for all women of taste”.

Image: The LBD that appeared in Vogue in 1926, via Chanel 

Before this, black was generally reserved for funerals and mourning and it was considered seriously indecent to wear the colour outside of these occasions.

By the 1930s, the LBD had been accepted into mainstream fashion. The little black flapper dress, which was straight and loose, was often decorated with tassels and has now become an icon in its own right. For these women, the LBD marked a significant moment of liberation: they were free from the restrictive, traditional clothing of the century before.

“When a little black dress is right, there is nothing else to wear in its place.”

Wallis Simpson

Due to its combination of both elegance and economy, the LBD’s popularity continued throughout the Great Depression. The influence of Hollywood perpetuated this even further as the new Technicolor filming methods often relied on using black dresses, as coloured ones could appear distorted on camera. The increased availability of synthetic fabrics such as rayon and nylon in the 1940s broadened the affordability of the LBD.

LBD history

With the rise of Dior’s ‘New Look’, which emphasised small waists with soft shoulders and long poofy skirts, and 1950s conservatism, the LBD took a back seat for the fifties and its role as a symbol of a dangerous woman only grew stronger. Hollywood again played a role in this as it began to dress its femme fatales all in black.

“One is never under dressed or over dressed with a little black dress”

Karl Lagerfield

In the 1960s, the young mod generation wore their LBDs super short while other women turned to longer incarnations of the dress, in the style of Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When the famous garment was auctioned in 2006, it sold for an impressive £410,000.

The LBD became more casual in the 1980s with the popularity of everyday fabrics and knitwear, while broad power-dressing shoulders and peplums also infiltrated the style.

Nineties grunge culture combined a simple cut LBD with statement Doc Marten boots. Today, the dress can be worn in almost any style and is universally regarded a staple of any fashionable wardrobe.

We love this infographic from Coast, which shows some of history’s most famous LBDs: